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Enter Gene-Editing: CRISPR Gene-Editing Method Tested on Humans for the First Time

Nov 17, 2016 09:40 AM EST
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A group of Chinese scientists is the first to inject an actual human being with cells containing genes edited using the controversial CRISPR method. 

A team led by Sichuan University's Lu Yu has delivered the modified cells to a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial. It can be remembered that earlier trials using gene-edited cells (although of a different technique) has already excited clinicians.

Nature explained that CRISPR is simpler and more efficient than other introduced techniques. If studies are correct, it may even accelerate to get gene-edited cells into clinics worldwide. Carl June, immunotherapy specialist, said this can trigger a "Sputnik 2.0" biomedical duel between China and United States. 

June also serves as the scientific adviser for a planned US trial that will also use the CRISPR method to target three genes related to various cancers. He expects the trial to begin in early 2017. By March of the same year, a group of Beijing scientists will also use the method against bladder, prostate, and renal cell cancers. 

Lu's trial has received ethical approval from a review board in July. The date of injections into participants was pushed back from August as culturing and amplification of cells took a bit longer. The researchers removed immune cells from the recipient's blood and disabled a gene using CRISPR-Cas9. It combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a molecular guide that can be programmed to tell the enzyme just where to cut. 

The disabled gene codes for the protein PD-1 -- or the ones that halt a cell's immunoresponse -- was the target as it helps cancers proliferate. Lu cultured the cells and increased their number. Hopefully, without PD-1, the edited cells can now defeat the cancer.

While the details of the trial are bound by confidentiality, Lu did say his patient was getting another injection soon. The team plans to treat about 10 people, with two to three injections each. They will be monitored for six months to determine if the injections are causing serious or adverse effects.

Regardless, other oncologists are excited about the entry of the technology to the cancer scene as this can effectively provide a new weapon in the fight against cancer.

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